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The Ephesian Way

August 13, 2006

I recently posted on Paul’s comments about the Purpose of God in the introduction to the book of Ephesians. That purpose was (is) to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth under one head, even Christ. Paul continued to develop that theme throughout the book of Ephesians. Typical of Paul’s letters, there is a logical thread and progression of thought throughout the letter. By following that thread throughout the letter we can gain greater insight into the message God was delivering through Paul. This article will be a quick high-level overview of the theme of the letter as I understand it. If you will follow along in Paul’s letter it will help to get the full picture.

God has had in mind from the beginning a plan to save us through Jesus, bringing all kinds of people together in unity, extending grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, and providing us with the gift of his Spirit. As Christians we are the beneficiaries of all this amazing kindness and generosity (Eph 1:1-14).

Therefore Paul prayed for the Ephesians (and indirectly for all the faithful in Christ Jesus). He prayed that we would know God better and understand all that He has done for us. (Eph 1:15-23) He reminded us of the former way of life from which we have been saved. And he pointed out that we were saved with a purpose, that we should do the good works God has prepared for us in advance. (Eph 2:1-10).

He reminds those of us who are Gentiles that we were alienated from God without Christ, but that now he has brought us near through the blood of Christ. As Paul wrote earlier in the introduction, God’s purpose is to unite all things (including Jews and Gentiles) under Christ. Here in chapter 2 Paul further explained this aspect of God’s “eternal unity project.” (Eph 2:11-22)

Because they (we) are blessed to be included in God’s unity project, Paul prayed for us. In Eph 3:1-13 Paul took a short parenthetical detour to explain his role in God’s plan. Then he returned and wrote his prayer for us beginning in verse 14. He prayed that we would be filled with God’s Spirit and that we would understand God’s magnificent love and benevolence toward us.

As is his pattern in all his letters, Paul laid out the truths and principles first, and then applied them practically. Beginning in chapter 4, Paul turned to those practicals. He called us to live lives worthy of this calling, the calling to participate in God’s eternal unity project. He called on us to seek unity and peace diligently. He listed several points on which unity should be self-evident. And then he described how, through the efforts of various roles God placed in the church, we should be brought to complete unity. (Eph 4:1-16).

In the remainder of the book he explained how we should each behave in order to facilitate that work. He sternly warned against indulging in the sensual practices of the Gentiles. He admonished us to practice virtues like kindness,compassion, and forgiveness. He gave instructions for relationships in the family. And he urged us to use all the tools God has placed at our disposal to defeat Satan. The work of the church, to build one another up in love, is to see to it that each member puts off the old life, puts on the new way of life, using all the tools God has placed at our disposal. In this way we will come to complete unity.

In summary, the letter of Ephesians is a letter about God bringing us all to unity. The book of Ephesians gives us all responsibilities in the process to produce this unity. These are good works God prepared in advance for us to do. The church is to be built up in love as each part does its work. The focus is to put off our old selves, to be made new in the attitude of our minds, and to put on our new selves, created in the likeness of God.

In other words, this is the good work prepared in advance for us to do: to put off sin, to put on righteousness, and to help people around us to do the same thing. According to Ephesians, that is the God-ordained route to complete and eternal unity.

At least that is the way I read it.

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